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We all know that there are three essential food groups: carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
Each of these food groups supplies us with energy, but we require each of them for a different purpose.
Let's start with carbohydrates. These are our main source of energy. There are three types of carbohydrates: sugar (which comes in two forms) - the quick energy food; starches - slower, provides long term energy; fiber - we can't digest these.
Then there's protein. We also get energy from protein, but it has another function. Proteins are the "growth and maintenance" food. They keep the cells functioning. Proteins also help us digest food and fight off infection.
Then there's fat. Fat stores energy. Fat also insulates the body against cold. We all know that too much fat is bad for us, but we need some fat, and the right kind can prevent disease.
Just as the body needs all three food groups to survive and prosper, so, too the soul needs its "three essential food groups." We can see the three essential "spiritual" food groups in the following expression of our Sages: "The world stands on three things: on Torah, on Divine Service (prayer) and on acts of loving-kindness (mitzvot - commandments)."
These three areas of human activity, upon which the world depends, correspond to the three food groups upon which the human body depends, as we'll explain.
Acts of loving-kindness (mitzvot) correspond to the carbohydrates we eat. How so? Unless we're on a special diet, most of our energy comes from carbohydrates. Similarly, unless we are a rare individual who spends all day in study or all day in prayer, most of spiritual activity is expressed in mitzvot - performance of the commandments. And like the three types of carbohydrates, we can classify three types of mitzvot.
Sugar, the quick energy, the most common form - these are the mitzvot we do every day.
Starches, the slower, longer lasting energy, less common - these are the mitzvot that occur occasionally, (like matza on Passover) that sustain us for longer periods of time.
Fiber, the indigestible carbohydrate are the prohibitions, the command-ments we fulfill by not acting.
Torah corresponds to protein. It is through Torah study that we grow. Through Torah we maintain our connection to G-d, that is, we gain (or absorb) inspiration. Torah heals us, enables us to fight off spiritual diseases, enables us to understand "what's going on" with the mitzvot, In short, Torah keeps us functioning.
Divine Service, or prayer corresponds to fat. A little goes a long way. A long, long way. Not only that, prayer insulates us, keeps us spiritually warm, excited about Judaism and G-d. It protects us against the "cold," that freezes our fervor, chill our enthusiasm for things spiritual (like mitzvot!).
And yes there are "bad prayers" - prayers that, like fat, are "saturated." That is, a prayer that is "saturated" with the person's ego has no room for G-d. Such a "saturated prayer" just increases a person's arrogance, harming one spiritually, interfering with one's relationship with G-d.
An "unsaturated prayer," on the other hand, indicates a state of self-nullification, where the ego is put aside and the person makes room for G-d within himself - as G-d commands in regard to the Tabernacle: "make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell within them" - that is, within the individual.
So make sure that when checking your diet for the three essential food groups, you also check your spiritual diet for the three essential spiritual food groups.
This week's Torah portion, Ki Tisa, contains an interesting exchange between Moses and G-d. "Show me, I pray, Your glory," asks Moses. G-d replies, "You cannot see My face...you will see My back, but My face shall not be seen."
The Torah is obviously speaking in symbolic terms. "Face" refers to a clear revelation of G-dliness, in much the same way that an individual's face reveals his inner self; glimpsing a person's "back" reveals far less about the person. But what did G-d show Moses?
The great commentator, Rashi, explains that G-d showed Moses the knot of His tefilin (phylacteries). What kind of answer to Moses' petition was that?
In order to understand, we must first place the exchange in its proper context. Moses made this request after the Jews sinned by making the Golden Calf. After such a grave sin, how could they ever be forgiven? What possible merit did the Jews have for G-d to absolve them of idolatry? Rashi explains that G-d's answer was to teach Moses the proper way for a Jew to pray for Divine mercy.
Sin itself defies logic. How could it be that a Jew, a member of a nation described as "believers, the children of believers," should sin? How can a Jew, who believes in his innermost heart that G-d created the world and continues to sustain it every minute of the day, denies this by transgressing G-d's will?
The answer is that all sin stems from forgetfulness. It is only when a Jew forgets the true nature of the world that he transgresses; when he forgets that G-d is the only absolute reality he strays from the right path. The minute a Jew is reminded of this, there is no room for sin and it ceases to exist.
This, then, is the significance of the knot of the tefilin. If sin is only the result of a Jew's forgetfulness, he need only be reminded of G-d and he will not transgress. This is accomplished by the tallit and tzitit (ritual fringes), whose purpose is to remind the Jew of his task in life, as it states in the Torah, "And you shall see it, and remember." The tefilin serve the same purpose: "And it shall be as a remembrance between your eyes."
Most specifically, it is the knot of the tefilin which symbolizes this, as a knot serves both as a reminder (such as when one ties a knot around one's finger to remember something), and as a symbol of the binding knot between G-d and the Jewish people.
By showing Moses the knot of the tefilin, G-d was instructing him how to seek atonement, for if we always bear in mind that there is nothing but G-d, there is no room for sin.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Rabbi Dov Oliver and David Yair
Imagine that you are twenty-one years old, overseas for the first time in your life, sitting on a bus and driving through Israel in the midst of wartime. Nearby is a burly, bearded rabbi from Australia putting tefilin on your new roommate.
There are 50 people on the bus. A few hours ago you knew none of them. Jason, to your left, is boasting about how much money he raked in at his bar mitzva. Amidst a messy and bumpy game of poker, Richard, to the right is divulging that his real name is something totally unpronounceable in Yiddish that sounds distinctly like what your grandparents shouted at each other when the chicken burnt.
This is all followed by some playful Jewish boys club-style banter until the rabbi gives you a hearty slap on the back and exclaims, "And what name did you score on the big day?"
"Big day?" you ask, your mind trying to wrap itself around what the rabbi could possibly mean.
"You know, when you were just a wee lad, eight days old...at your brit (ritual circumcision)! What's the name they gave you at your brit?"
"Huh, brit?" you stammer, wondering if you were supposed to have already picked up Hebrew two hours into your trip. "Oh... that.." you reply, as it suddenly dawns on you what he is referring to. "Umm, well I never exactly did have one of those."
"No worries at all, mate," shoots back the rabbi you have now learned is Rabbi Oliver.
"Well, I sort of did," you offer. "It's just it was sort of no frills, not that I remember much, but I know it was done in a hospital by a doctor, does that still count?" you ask, figuring the answer must be yes, because it would appear this is a once-in-a-lifetime type of procedure.
"Well, now that you ask, no, not really mate, it doesn't really count," Rabbi Oliver responds.
"Uh-oh," you reply.
"I think you mean oy vey," chimes in Richard.
"Not a case of oy vey at all," protests Rabbi Oliver. "First of all, with or without a proper brit you are still just as Jewish as Moses, King David, King Solomon, me or Adam Sandler. Secondly, we can arrange a retroactive brit for you at no cost, no hassle, almost no pain and with a big smorgasbord! So what do you reckon?" beams the Rabbi.
Suddenly the poker players are in full cry. "All in, ante up. Come on, go for it Dave," your new "friends" start cajoling you. "That rocks dude, having your brit on your first trip to Israel, come on, go for it, and we'll all get a party!"
"Um, well... okay," responds either a deep spiritual voice from within your soul or a standard peer group pressure concession.
"Good on ya, mate!" booms the rabbi, and the rest, as they say, is history.
A few days before the end of your incredible Mayanot Taglit-Birthright Israel experience in Israel the "brit" takes place. It's actually known as a Hatofat Dam Brit - a procedure where a single drop of blood is taken.
After arriving in Jerusalem, you and Rabbi Oliver meet the mohel (ritual circumcisor), a very warm and friendly man by the name of Rabbi Kremer. Sensing your apprehension, he calmly explains the procedure to you as well as explaining the significance of a Brit Mila, answering all your questions and steadying your turning stomach. In the end it's not painful, in fact you are waiting for the pain, when he informs you it's all over, phew!
Later that day, you and a group of other students from your bus, Mayanot 36, receive your official Jewish names. You receive your name, David Yair, after being called up for an aliya to the Torah at the Western Wall. This is followed by a celebratory meal made all the more special by the guest performance of a highly talented young Chabad singer named Moshe Hecht.
That night you sleep with a certain satisfaction and increased sense of belonging. Being Jewish is not always easy, you have to do things that go against the grain, you have to be brave, you have to take a stand, and today you did.
A brit literally means a covenant, a sign between you and G-d. A Mayanot Birthright trip is precisely that, but on this trip you "doubled up" on the sign, you went all in and you won!
Rabbi Dov Oliver and his wife Shevy are the co-directors of Hillel of Rockland County, New York. Mayanot is one of the most sought after trip providers for free Taglit-Birthright Israel trips to Israel. For more info and to sign up visit www.mayanotisrael.com.
Birkat HaChama: Blessing of the Sun
Once every 28 years a special prayer - Birkat Hachama - is recited blessing the sun. The Talmud explains that at this time the sun returns to the position that it was at the time of Creation. The next time this once-in-28-year-mitzva (commandment) will occur is the morning of April 8, 2009 (14 Nissan, 5769). A number of booklets containing the full text and translation of the prayer service recited at that time have been published by the Kehot Publication Society, the text can be found at: www.LchaimWeekly.org/sun/. For more info about this special mitzva visit chabad.org/sun
Pearls for the Shabbat Table
A collection of thoughts on the weekly Torah portions and Jewish Festivals, Pearls for the Shabbos Table will stir the minds of anyone gathered for the Shabbat or holiday meal. Its easy-to-read style is designed to be accessible to children, while its powerful messages are sure to inspire deeper discussion even amongst the more seasoned scholars. From the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, adapted by Rabbi Y.Y. Alperowitz
Freely adapted and translated
12 Menachem Av, 5712 (1952)
It pained me to learn that you are still in a downhearted mood, and according to my understanding this is the mood in your household as well.
I don't want to go on at length and enter into a debate as to whether your attitude is correct or not. Understandably, it does not take much contemplation to appreciate why you are all in such a frame of mind after the tragedy that occurred - may we all never know of such events again.
The above notwithstanding, Jews in general and chassidim in particular as "believers" are expected to unequivocally cleave to G-d, keeping their relationship with Him open, as the verse states, "And you who cleave to the L-rd your G-d are all alive today."
Life, true life, does not mean simply marking time, it means that one's life lacks for nothing, with both the person and his family possessing their entire spiritual and material needs.
Since the possibility exists that - G-d forbid - they have not earned this generous bounty from G-d, therefore the holy Zohar (II, p. 184b) tenders the advice: "They - this physical world and man in general - exist by the 'radiant countenance' [i.e., the joy and positivity,] that is emitted from below. In like manner they then draw down upon themselves the same qualities from Above. Man's joy draws down a corresponding measure of joy from Above."
Concisely stated: When one strengthens himself in his bitachon [trust] in G-d that He will surely provide those matters with which a person can be in good spirits, happy and joyous, doing so in such a powerful manner that his bitachon affects his daily life, then one draws down this Divine beneficence from Above. One then verily sees that his bitachon was justified.
May G-d help that you, your wife, and your entire family experience this as quickly as possible and in as discernible a manner as possible.
11 Nissan, 5701 (1951)
... Surely you are correct in writing that you have already suffered enough; it is high time for everyone to be helped in all that they require, particularly with regard to good health, and I hope you will be able to convey to me glad tidings regarding your improved health.
I wish to note the following, although I am not entirely sure whether this is wholly germane to your situation:
Quite often, a person's feelings of self-assurance and security are dependent on something outside of and higher than himself - in simpler terms, [they are dependent] on his feelings of faith and bitachon in the Creator of the world as a whole and man's personal world in particular.
After the earthshaking events of our generation, which have shaken various spiritual foundations and torn away many individuals from deeply rooted family and national traditions, it affected many people and caused them to think that they were left hanging in the wind; [i.e., without something to which they could anchor their lives].
I am referring here even to those of them who are believers; their faith became something that was disconnected from their practical everyday life. They would think about their faith, recite Shema Yisrael or Modeh Ani, often thinking about the meaning of the words, and yet they would go around the entire day with the thought that they were entirely alone, each of them drawing conclusions from these thoughts according to their nature and personality.
The most realistic manner of helping such individuals regain their equilibrium is by revealing within them their familial and ancestral traditions that even now remain concealed within their souls.
They will then perceive that man is not alone. Moreover, they will realize that man is the master of his lot only to a certain extent; for the most part it depends on G-d.
Consequently, the person need not place all the burdens of his life on his own shoulders, feeling a tremendously weighty responsibility for everything that happens to him. Surely he need not be filled with despair regarding specific matters or specific situations.
When such individuals are connected with their fount of faith and bitachon, which without the slightest doubt remains deeply rooted in them, this will lead to their peace of mind and will enable them to live their lives in a healthier manner and better be able to fulfill the unique tasks that each and every individual has in life. ...
From Healthy in Body, Mind and Soul, compiled by Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg, published by Sichos in English
Preparations for Passover
Our Sages state that 30 days before a holiday, we should learn the laws pertaining to it. It is just about 30 days before the holiday of Passover and we should begin studying the laws of the upcoming holiday. Learn to conduct your own Seder, find out what constitutes "chametz" (leavened products), get the real scoop on the difference between Passover cleaning and spring cleaning. Call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center and sign up for a Passover class today!
In memory of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg and the other kedoshim of Mumbai
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This week we read the third of the four special Torah portions, Parshat Para.
Parshat Para describes the offering of the red heifer (the para aduma) and begins, "This is the decree of the Torah." These words indicate that the significance of the red heifer relates to the Torah and its mitzvot in its entirety.
The mitzva of the red heifer reveals two tendencies in a person's G-dly service: a yearning to cling to G-d, known as "ratzo" and the willingness to carry out G-d's will in this world, known as "shov." These two qualities are fundamental thrusts of Torah and mitzvot.
The burning of the red heifer with fire represents the thrust of ascending upward - ratzo. Fire is characterized by activity and a constant upward movement. The use of "living water in a vessel" which was combined with the ashes of the red heifer refers to the service of shov, for water naturally descends from above to below. Furthermore, when found on a flat surface, water remains in its place, reflecting the quality of tranquility.
Ratzo and shov are fundamental thrusts in Torah, not merely because of the unity they can bring about within the world, but because these two tendencies reflect positive qualities which must be emulated in our service of G-d. A Jew must possess the quality of ratzo. He must not be content with remaining at his present level, but must always seek to advance further. He must always be "running to fulfill a mitzva." Even though he has reached a high level, he must always seek to attain higher heights.
In contrast, ratzo alone is insufficient and it is necessary to internalize all the new levels one reaches, making sure that they become a part of one's nature. This is reflected in an approach of settledness (shov). It does not, however imply complacency. Rather, the internalization of one level produces the desire to reach higher peaks. After reaching those new peaks, one must work to internalize them, which, in turn produces a desire to reach even higher peaks.
May we all grow in both areas of growth and tranquility, ratzo and shov until we reach the highest height of all and actually greet Moshiach.
This they shall give...half a shekel (machatzit) of the shekel of the Sanctuary (Ex. 30:13)
The Hebrew word "machatzit" is spelled mem-chet-tzadik-yud-tav. The letter tzadik, which also means a righteous person, is exactly in the center. The two letters nearest to the tzadik are chet and yud, which spell "chai," meaning alive. The two letters furthest from the tzadik are mem and tav, which spell "meit," or dead. From this we learn that being close to a tzadik imbues us with life, and that giving tzedaka (charity, symbolized by the half-shekel) saves us from death.
The shekel is an allusion to the soul; the gematria (numerical equivalent) of "shekel" is the same as for "nefesh" (soul). Every Jew is given "half" of his soul from Above; his obligation is to elevate the other "half" under his control to the same level as the first, through serving G-d and performing good deeds.
(Rabbi Chanoch of Alexander)
The Tablets were written on both their sides (Ex. 32:15)
The two sides of the Tablets are an allusion to the two aspects of Torah, the revealed (nigleh) and the hidden (nistar). If a person publicly denies the Divinity of the Torah's mystical teachings, it is a sign that inwardly, he also denies the sanctity of the revealed portion.
(The Chatam Sofer)
Reb Yerucham was never much of a breadwinner. Instead, he devoted all his time to Torah-study and prayer while his wife, Leah went to the marketplace to conduct business.
She would make small purchases which she would in turn, sell to her neighbors at a small profit. The arrangement worked well, for although they never had much, they both felt very privileged to be able to serve G-d by devoting themselves to His Torah.
In the winter, though, when the roads were blocked with snow and ice, and the farmers couldn't make it into the market, Leah didn't fare so well.
She was forced to sustain her family on the few coins she had managed to squirrel away during the previous months. Every time she had to dip into her meager "capital" her heart fell.
When only a few pennies remained, she decided it was time to go to her husband. "Yerucham, what are we going to do? How are we going to feed our children?"
Reb Yerucham lifted his eyes from his tome and replied, "Have faith. Our Heavenly Father has never forsaken us before, and will not forsake us now..."
"What good is faith on an empty stomach!" the poor woman said bitterly. "I can't bear to see my children starving! What am I to say to them when they cry for bread tomorrow morning?"
"Don't worry now - till tomorrow morning there is ample time for G-d to provide for our needs. Put your trust in Him, Leah; He won't forsake us."
Poor Leah left the room very troubled, but a little comforted by her husband's assurances. Reb Yerucham went outside, and as he was about to come back in, he spotted something lying in the mud.
He picked it up and brought it into the house. He washed it, and sure enough, it was a silver coin!
Now, his wife would be happy and they would be able to manage a little longer. But then another thought passed through his mind, "If G-d had wanted to send them sustenance, couldn't He find a better way than throwing him a muddy coin?
No, He doesn't want me to accept it this way; He is only testing our faith in Him."
So Yerucham decided that in the morning he would put the coin into the tzedaka (charity) box.
Yerucham became so engrossed in his study that he was startled by his wife's cry of joy when she spied the silver coin on his table. "Don't get too excited; it's not ours!" he said quickly.
"What do you mean?"
"I have already donated it to charity."
Looking into his wife's shocked eyes which were already filling the tears, he continued explaining, "Imagine if I were to give you a present and throw it into the garbage heap, saying, 'Go pick it up, dear.' You wouldn't want it anymore. Well, I believe that G-d has sent this coin to us as a test of our faith in His readiness to provide for us. Be strong in your faith, and you will see that I'll be proven right."
Leah walked out of the room, shaking her head. She knew that her husband was a scholar and a saintly man, but there was not one morsel of food in the house. Meanwhile Reb Yerucham sat by the light of a candle studying into the wee hours.
Late that night two tired merchants were travelling through one of the persistent snow storms that had enclosed the little hamlet.
Exhausted, they saw a faint glimmer of a candle in the pitch, black darkness. They knocked on Reb Yerucham's door asking for accommodation. He agreed, but very apologetically, since he had very little to offer them.
The men were just happy to have a place to sleep. They spread out their bountiful food supplies on the table and invited their hosts to join them in a feast fit for a king.
During the meal, the conversation took a scholarly turn and the merchants saw that their host was no country bumpkin, but a very learned and wise man.
One of the merchants turned to his companion and said, "Why should we trouble ourselves to travel all the way to Lemberg to mediate our dispute when we have a great scholar right here."
"Yes, I agree," said the second, and he proceeded to explain.
"We are not only partners, but also close friends, but we have a disagreement which we want to present before a great rabbi. We were about to continue to Lemberg, but we feel that you are a person very qualified to judge the problem, and G-d has brought us to your door. We will be happy to pay you the same amount we would have paid the Rabbi of Lemberg.
Reb Yerucham didn't usually involve himself in judgements or arbitrations, but under the circumstances, since the two men were so anxious to settle in a peaceful fashion, he agreed to take up their case.
The following morning, Yerucham and his guests made their way to the synagogue for the morning prayers. Yerucham slipped the silver coin into the charity box, thanking G-d for not forsaking him and his family in their hour of need, and sending him generous sustenance in an honorable and worthy manner.
The redemption of Israel is likened to a process of "sprouting" and "flourishing," - tzmicha. One of the names in the Bible for Moshiach himself is Tzemach, "the sprout," as it is written: "His name is Tzemach and from beneath him [from the earth] he will flourish."